For outdoor photography enthusiasts, finding the best hiking tripod to support your camera and catch all those album worthy moments can feel like a distinct challenge. With so many tripods available, how do you know which one will best serve your needs out on the trail?
We’re so glad you asked. For a definitive guide to choosing the best hiking tripod for all your travel adventures to the top 5 tripods you’ll want to consider for your gear, keep scrolling.
The top 5 hiking tripod we recommend for 2021:
Before you can pick out the best hiking camera tripod to check all the key items off your wishlist, it’s essential to understand exactly how tripods work. Tripods have several main components, which are the head, legs, centerpost or center column, and the feet.
The head of the tripod supports your lens or digital camera. You can choose from a wide range of tripod heads, but the most common ones are pan-tilt and ball heads. The tripod legs support the whole mechanism and are usually manufactured from steel, basalt, carbon fiber, or aluminum.
The centerpost or center column is the leg in the center of the device that helps to elevate the head of the tripod. Finally, most quality tripods include different tripod feet to switch out at the end of the device’s legs depending on whether you intend to use it inside or outside.
If you are in the market for the best hiking tripod, you need to consider a few key factors before making your final purchase.
The first aspect you need to consider when purchasing a tripod is its height. It is best to select a tripod that aligns with your actual height, so there’s no need to strain your back or neck to look through the viewfinder. Once situated on the tripod, your viewfinder should be right around your eye level.
If the viewfinder goes a little bit above or below eye level, you can easily alter your tripod’s legs to accommodate for the discrepancy. As a general rule of thumb though, you should try to ensure the alignment is as close to eye level as possible. If you purchase a tripod with the head secured to it, the top of the head should hit right around your jaw.
On the other hand, if you decide to purchase a tripod where the head comes separately, just make sure that the tripod legs stop around your shoulders. If you intend to travel frequently with your tripod, you’ll also want to take into account the total height of your tripod after it has been broken down and packed up. Consider the size of your gear and how much space you’ll require to take the best hiking camera tripod on the open road with you.
One of the most critical factors you’ll need to consider when hunting for the best hiking tripod is its total support capacity. It’s not uncommon for novice photographers to purchase a tripod that is only meant to hold a few pounds and not heavy duty camera equipment. Consider the extent of the photography equipment you’ll be bringing along to ensure your tripod can support the weight sufficiently.
Your tripod should be able to hold a minimum of 1.5 times above the weight of your equipment, including your camera and lens. To be safe, consider purchasing a tripod that can hold at least 2 times more than your total equipment’s weight.
The actual weight of the tripod itself is another key element to bear in mind. You certainly don’t want your tripod to weigh you down when you’re traveling, but it needs to be sturdy enough to support your equipment and hold up well in the great outdoors.
The most lightweight tripod materials are carbon fibers, which also offer great longevity of use, are rust-resistant, and highly sturdy. That said, the best hiking tripods made from carbon materials are typically the least affordable option.
If you want something more affordable, aluminum is another very durable tripod material. It does weigh more than carbon fibers though. Stainless steel tripods are another option, but these are some of the heaviest materials available, so they might not be the best choice if you are constantly on the move.
The best tripod for hiking leg weight should be no more than 5 pounds. Tripods made of carbon fibers typically weigh between 3 and 4 pounds. Aluminum tripods are around 5 to 6 pounds but can be heavier. Another option is basalt lava legs, which usually hit somewhere in the middle in terms of weight.
The tripod head is the most critical element of the entire device. It not only secures your camera and associated equipment in place, but it also helps direct the movement of the lens. Modular tripods do not come with the tripod head, so they require a separate purchase. When selecting a tripod head, it should always be able to hold at least as much weight as the legs do.
There are three primary kinds of tripod heads you can purchase — a pan-tilt head, ball-head, and gimbal head. A pan-tilt head usually features one handle for horizontal adjustment or two handles for both horizontal and vertical adjustment. A ball-head sports a single control for adjustment and is very dependable to keep your camera in place.
A gimbal head is designed specifically for 300 mm lenses and above. Gimbal heads maintain optimal balance for heavier lenses and are a great choice for quick action photos. They are also very easy to use and you won’t have to tighten the head each time you move the camera.
Some tripod models include the centerpost, the center tripod leg allowing you to elevate or lower your camera height. While some photographers prefer a centerpost, it is important to note that this center leg could cause significantly more vibration when you’re utilizing the device.
If you still decide that a centerpost is a must-have for you, it is best to select one that will lower to the level where the tripod legs converge.
Typically, you’ll have 2 different options for tripod legs; tubular and non-tubular. Carbon fiber tripods are always tubular with a twist lock system. Basalt, steel, and aluminum tripods are sold in a variety of shapes, secured with a flip-lock.
Based on the height of the best hiking camera tripod you select, there could be anywhere from 3 to 5 sections on each leg. In general, the more leg sections a tripod has, the higher you can elevate it. Just be aware that higher tripods are typically less sturdy.
Certain tripod models give you the option to switch out the feet depending on the environment you’re in. Rubber and plastic feet are great for inside use, while metal spikes are the common choice for outdoor photography. Save for very rainy or icy weather though, the rubber feet included with your tripod should suffice for your hiking purposes.
Now that you’re an expert regarding all the ins and outs of investing in a tripod, here are the top 5 best hiking tripods available currently.
The first best tripod for hiking on our list is this fantastic and light option by Gitzo. Featuring a ball head design, this tripod is a great choice for frequent outdoor travelers who want to capture amazing shots on the go.
The Gitzo GT3542 Mountaineer Tripod’s legs are fairly narrow when compared to other options available, but they are still sturdy enough to support a heavy camera and lens between 300 and 400 mm.
You can elevate the carbon fiber tripod’s height as much as 63.78 inches and lower it down to 52.76 inches. We really love that you can adjust the tripod to a wide range of levels to suit all your photography needs.
Plus, you can easily fold the tripod to fit in your gear where it will take up a mere 21.26 inches of space. We were also pretty impressed that the 4-section tripod can handle up to 46.3 pounds in payload capacity, with a G-lock leg design for stability and durability.
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The next best hiking tripod selection on our list is this adjustable ball head device by Sirui. Featuring a durable carbon fiber design, we were astounded to discover that you can fold this incredibly compact tripod down to a mere 15.7 inches for easy carrying.
It also sports a handy center column that you can adjust up and down to put your camera at the optimal height. The tripod comes with a shorter center column for catching snaps at lower angles.
This very lightweight tripod weighs just 2 pounds with 13.2-pound load capacity, so if you’re going to be traveling for long periods this won’t overbulk your gear. You can elevate the tripod up to 54.7 inches or lower it down to 4.9 inches with the shorter center column if you need to. We also really liked the leg locks that adjust to half a turn so you can set up or pack up the tripod with relative ease.
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Oben’s pan/tilt head best hiking tripod supports a load capacity of 13.2 pounds, which is definitely less than some other devices but a good choice if you have a more lightweight camera and lens.
We like the fact that you can extend it to a maximum height of 68.3 inches or lower it all the way down to 10.2 inches as you prefer. It weighs just over 5 pounds, with a handy 360-degree panning feature for fantastic outdoor snaps.
We also liked the quick release mechanism with a safety lock for easy setup and breakdown. The aluminum tripod sports a 4-section design with rubber tip feet that will stabilize your device well in rugged or slippery locations. Another huge plus for the Oben AC-1451 is that it offers 3 tubular levels, which means you can keep your lens level both vertically and horizontally.
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Our next pick for the best hiking tripod is this aluminum model by MeFOTO. We liked the 360-degree panning option for beautiful panorama shots. You can adjust the tripod to 2 angle positions, which makes it easy to take photos when working with almost any space or surface.
If you want to increase the stability of your tripod, the MeFOTO Classic Aluminum Tripod sports a recessed hook so you can secure extra weight on the center column.
The ball head design of this tripod is very reliable, plus the 5-section legs with rubber grips make it easy to set up and secure your device in no time. The really cool aspect of this tripod is that you can adjust it to a complete monopod of 64 inches or fold it down to 180 degrees at a 15.4-inch size.
Because you have 5 leg sections, you can secure your camera at heights ranging from 15.4 to 61.6 inches. The tripod weighs just 3.6 pounds but will support a payload capacity as high as 17.6 pounds, so it’s an ideal pick for DSLR or mirrorless cameras.
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The final best hiking tripod selection on our list is this compact tripod by Manfrotto. We love the durable aluminum device, with a quick-release plate to secure a variety of cameras and lenses. One thing we really liked was that the Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod includes a unique adaptor to fit with cameras featuring higher specs.
The tripod even sports a photo-to-movie feature that lets you switch from taking a photo to movie mode with ease.
The design features 5 leg sections that extend up to 61.02 inches and down to 17.32 inches in height. With the center column lowered, you’ll enjoy a maximum height of 52.36 inches. The Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod also sports a 360-degree panorama option with a quick release plate.
We did notice that the safety payload for this tripod is pretty low, with a maximum recommended weight of 3.31 pounds. However, the tripod only weighs 2.56 pounds total, so this is something to consider if you plan on being out on the open trail for long periods.
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So, which best hiking tripod made the cut as the ultimate winner from the top 5? After considering all the specs, pros, and cons of each device, we’d have to name the Gitzo GT3542 Mountaineer Tripod Ser.3 4S as the unequivocal winner on our list. We were duly impressed by its 46.3 payload capacity to support heavier cameras, which make it an ideal choice for quality 300 to 400 mm lenses.
We also loved that you can fold this tripod all the way down to 21.26 inches but raise it to a full height of 63.78 inches if so desired. For us, the versatility, capacity, maximum and minimum height options, and lightweight yet highly durable carbon fiber design of the Gitzo GT3542 Mountaineer Tripod make it the best hiking tripod for any outdoor explorer.